Legislation & policy analysis

Congress should commemorate Sunshine Week by passing bipartisan legislation that increases transparency and saves taxpayers money

All week, transparency advocates around the country, including Issue One, have been observing Sunshine Week — an annual affair that honors open government and the public’s right to access information.

One easy way that Congress could commemorate Sunshine Week this year would be to pass the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act (S. 298) — a bipartisan bill that would not only save taxpayers an estimated $900,000 a year but would also improve access to vital information about how politicians are raising and spending their campaign funds.

Introduced last year by Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS), the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act — which is currently sponsored by more than half of all sitting senators — would require Senate candidates to join all other federal candidates in electronically filing their campaign finance reports.

Candidates for the presidency and the House of Representatives have been required to e-file their campaign finance reports for nearly two decades. There is no reason that Senate candidates should not be required to do the same.

Here’s how the system currently works today: Senate candidates are required to file paper copies of their campaign finance reports. This means campaign staffers key information into digital databases and then print copies of these records so they can be mailed to the Secretary of the Senate. That office next scans the paper documents to convert them into digital .pdf files, which Senate staffers then send to the Federal Election Commission, which, in turn, hires contractors to key in information that originally began as digital records. This cumbersome process unnecessarily delays access to campaign finance information while wasting taxpayer money.

The Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act would fix this. That is why this commonsense legislation has garnered widespread support from groups across the ideological spectrum, from Judicial Watch to Taxpayers For Common Sense to Demand Progress Action. It’s also backed by an array of nonpartisan research organizations, including the Campaign Finance Institute, the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Moreover, Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans, alike, support this legislation.

Sen. Cochran, the lead Republican sponsor of the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act, has said that the “electronic filing of campaign reports would improve efficiency, increase transparency and reduce costs for taxpayers.” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), another sponsor of this legislation, has echoed that, calling the bill “a commonsense reform that will also save taxpayers money.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) has called e-filing a “simple, efficient and cost-effective approach that is long-overdue,” and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has praised this measure as a way to “bring Congress into the 21st century.”

With such broad, bipartisan support, the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act represents an easy step forward for additional government transparency and accountability — and would save taxpayers a significant amount of money in the process. Adopting e-filing for Senate candidates’ campaign finance reports is a win-win, and it would be prudent for Senate leadership to hold an up-or-down vote on this commonsense proposal.

Two hundred sixty-seven years ago today, when James Madison, the Founding Father who served as our fourth president, was born, politicians couldn’t communicate via Twitter, Skype or email. But they can — and do — today. There is no good reason for Senate campaign finance reporting requirements to stay stuck in the past. This Sunshine Week, we should listen to the growing bipartisan chorus that is ready to make this technological leap forward and stop wasting taxpayer money on an archaic, paper-based filing system.